Sex matters in the hospitality industry

If you provide toilets to the public or to employees, take ten minutes to respond to the government’s consultation on its new building regulations for toilets before 8th October. Sex Matters has published guidance.

"We are all fudging it with our fingers crossed that nothing bad happens."

A publican’s perspective

As the owner of a busy licensed premises I wish there was more clarity on the provision of single-sex facilities. Licensing rules require that pubs provide toilets, and for years having male and female toilets was straightforward and understood by staff and customers alike. 

Pubs are sociable and lively places but they need to be run on clear guidance. One of the main objectives for licence approval is to maintain public safety. Customers need guidance as much as operators do.

It is not difficult to foresee how confusion between sex and gender identity raises issues in the hospitality trade. If a woman complains to staff that a man is in the women’s toilet then that situation can be dealt with appropriately with the legal knowledge that those facilities are for the exclusive use of women. However, if that individual declares they are not a man, whether a transwoman or non-binary, irrespective of how they present themselves, then what is the protocol for staff? What is the actual legal situation? 

Attempting to implement a policy which is not recognised or known by the general public could have disastrous consequences for any licensed premises, in terms of conflict between customers, legal liability and social media fallout. 

Many pubs seem to be already excusing themselves from having to deal with the potential conflict by making toilets “gender neutral”. In some this just involves taking away the signs on the door and replacing them with statements about what facilities they can find inside – cubicles or urinals. Is that even legal? it doesn’t appear to have come from any clear legislation. Do people prefer it? 

I think going unisex or “gender neutral” is a terrible proposition. I’ve seen them in practice and no one benefits, particularly women. 

My pub is small and in an older building. We have women’s and men’s toilets but no space for disabled or unisex toilets. We have very little trouble from our customers and incidents are few and far between but we have no official policy beyond the common understanding and historical norm of separation by sex. At the moment it feels like we are all fudging it with our fingers crossed that nothing bad happens.

I have considered getting clarification on how to deal with the issue if there is a conflict, but the only source of advice available was from pro-trans groups, effectively activist lobby groups. The buck should stop with government, but they have been among the most enthusiastic about transferring policy to lobbyists as opposed to taking hard decisions themselves. 

From a business point of view I yearn for clear rules and guidance from the government. The current confusion potentially allows for malicious behaviour. As it stands, any man could say “I’m non binary”. We don’t have a policy because we don’t know what the rules are any more.